Life is Short and Desire Endless

Life is Short and Desire Endless
Patrick Lapeyre
Published by Other Press
336 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Woody Allen once said that the heart wants what the heart wants. (We won’t go into the circumstances that prompted that musing, because ew!) Patrick Lapeyre takes that notion to heart in this book. Boy, does he ever.

Two men, a frenchman named Blériot and an American named Murphy, want Nora Neville, an English woman with some French ancestry. Blériot is married, but directionless. His “career” consists of working as a freelance translator, but he doesn’t really like his job, nor is he motivated to do much with it. His wife, Sabine, brings in the money; Blériot tends to make more from handouts from his parents and friend Léonard than he does from actual work. Blériot does care about his wife, although theirs is a stagnant, complacent marriage.

Murphy is the opposite of Blériot: he has a good, stable job at a London finance agency (he graduated from Harvard, after all) and earns his money. He has an apartment, an assortment of associates (if not real friends), and a life he is moving toward, as opposed to Blériot’s more circuitous route.

While the two are very different, Blériot and Murphy share one passion: Nora Neville. She has bewitched both men, and their desire for her is, well, endless. Each met her at a party, and each was immediately captivated by her to the point of obsession. Blériot happily jeopardizes his marriage, while Murphy allows the distraction of Nora to complicate his career.

We also have Vicky Laumett, who, thanks to a teenage dalliance with Nora, is as obsessed with her as Blériot and Murphy.

What do these three people see in Nora Neville? Well … that is a question that is not quite answered in this book. Perhaps it’s Nora’s brown eyes, which are the only physical feature of her that Lapeyre details. She is not particularly sexual; at times she even appears to dislike sex. She does not provide either man with emotional or spiritual comfort; in fact, she deserts them every time their need for her intensifies. Even Lapeyre seems confused by Nora’s appeal:

She’d had so many lovers, so many lives dovetailed into one another, you’d be forgiven for thinking she secretes an active substance when she comes in contact with men, one that singlehandedly makes them fall at her feet.

We a readers draw the same conclusion. Nora must use some sort of alchemy – secretions, potions, trances – that bind these men to her, because truly, she is not a likable girl. She is manipulative and selfish. She knows how Blériot and Murphy (and Vicky) feel about her, but that doesn’t stop her from her sudden desertions, as she flits back and forth between the two men. She tells one of them that she loves him, while she tells the other that she loves his innocence. What she likely loves more is that they make themselves available for her on her schedule. She certainly loves her freedom, because the second she feels crowded by Blériot or Murphy, she bolts.

As for our boys in love, this really is Blériot’s story, more than Murphy’s. Blériot is almost a tragic figure, with his inability to do anything about his career, his marriage or his relationship with Nora. When he finally does do something, it doesn’t take, because he reverts back to obsession, allowing himself to be driven by his endless desire.

Is this a good book? Yes, it is, but you have to be patient with it. You cannot expect neatness or tidiness. It unfolds slowly and evocatively, and as it does so, it pulls us into Blériot and Murphy’s need for and obsession with Nora. Much like Nora does with her men, the book spellbinds you, and before you realize it, you cannot stop reading it. You must see it to its completion.

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